How to use Agile Release Planning

Ruth Hadari
Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Aug 4, 2022
Updated on
Aug 4, 2022
Table of Content

Agile teams and organizations plan and release their products in a much different way than traditional software development teams. In Agile development, the product is released in small increments (iterations) rather than all at once. Each iteration contains new features and functionalities that have been planned and prioritized by the team. 

This planning process is called Agile release planning. It’s an iterative process that starts with the Product Owner creating a product vision and roadmap. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Agile release planning, how it’s done, and why it’s beneficial for Agile teams.

What Is Release Planning in Agile?

Release planning is the process of creating a roadmap for an Agile project. This roadmap details when each iteration of the project will be delivered and what features and functionalities will be included in each iteration. 

The Product Owner creates the initial product vision and roadmap, which are then used to create the release plan. The release plan is a high-level overview of the entire project, including all iterations and their corresponding delivery dates. From there, each iteration is planned in greater detail. 

The Agile release planning process is iterative, meaning that the plan is constantly updated as the project progresses. This allows for changes and unforeseen circumstances to be accommodated easily.  From here, the project is broken down into iterations, with each iteration planned in more detail.

A good example is the way a car is built: It starts with the design of the car. This is followed by planning for production, including release dates and what features will be included in each release. The car is then built in small batches (iterations), with each batch being tested before moving on to the next.

Or imagine you’re planning a trip from Los Angeles to New York. The first thing you do is decide when you want to leave and what route you’re going to take. This is the equivalent of the Product Owner creating the product vision and roadmap. 

You then start planning each leg of the trip in more detail. For example, you might plan to drive from LA to San Diego on Day 1, stay overnight, and then drive from San Diego to Tucson on Day 2. This is the equivalent of the release planning process, where the project is broken down into smaller iterations (legs of the trip) and each iteration is planned in more detail according to the product backlog.

In a software development project, each iteration would include a certain amount of work that needs to be completed. With Scrum release planning, the work is broken down into tasks that are assigned to team members. The team then works on the tasks during the iteration and delivers the completed work at the end of the iteration. 

When you are developing software, it is important to have a clear understanding of what needs to be done in each iteration. This way, you can make sure that the team is always working on the most important tasks and that the project is making progress.

What Are the Benefits of Agile Release Planning?

In the traditional Waterfall model of software development, projects are often completed in large batches with long gaps between releases. This can lead to frustration for users who have to wait a long time for new features, and can also be inefficient for developers who may have to relearn the code after long periods of inactivity.

The Agile release planning process is designed to address these issues by breaking projects down into smaller pieces and delivering them more frequently. Here are some of its key benefits:

1. Increased user satisfaction: In the Agile release planning process, new features are delivered more frequently, so users don’t have to wait as long for the things they want. This can lead to increased satisfaction and engagement with your product.

2. Improved efficiency: By delivering features in smaller batches, developers can stay more familiar with the codebase and be more efficient in their work. This is especially beneficial for large projects that would otherwise be difficult to keep track of.

3. Reduced risk: Releasing features in small batches reduces the risk of issues in each release, since there is less code to test and deploy at once. This means fewer bugs and fewer unexpected problems when new features are released.

4. Better planning: The Agile release planning process forces you to think about your project in smaller pieces, resulting in a more detailed and well-thought-out plan overall. You will save time and money in the long run by avoiding expensive mistakes.

5. Greater flexibility: The Agile release planning process is designed to be flexible, so you can easily adapt your plans as new information flows in. This is essential in today’s fast-paced business environment where things can change rapidly.

6. Better communication: In the Agile release planning process, communication is essential for coordinate=ing releases and making sure everyone is on the same page. This will result in better overall team communication and improved collaboration.

7. Greater transparency: The Agile release planning process is typically more transparent than the traditional Waterfall model, since it involves close collaboration with stakeholders and constant feedback. This can build trust and confidence in your team and improve your relationship with stakeholders.

How to Start Agile Release Planning

The steps that follow presume that you already understand the fundamentals of Agile methodology and have set up an Agile workflow in your organization. In such circumstances, starting an Agile release planning project is really straightforward. Gitlab offers a release planning feature, a tool that you can use to make the process much easier and more efficient.

Step 1: Review your product strategy and vision, and identify results

This is the starting point for every Agile release planning project. In order to create an effective and efficient release plan, you need to have a clear product strategy— including user stories—that everyone in the organization agrees on and is committed to. The product strategy will guide you in scoping the work for each release, and help you make decisions about what can be included and what needs to be sacrificed in order to achieve the desired results.

Step 2: Create your product roadmap

The product roadmap is a high-level overview of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve the product strategy. It should identify the major releases and milestones, and provide a rough timeline for when each piece of work will be completed. The roadmap does not need to be overly detailed, but it should be enough to give everyone a general sense of what needs to be accomplished and when.

Step 3: Define your release criteria

Before you can start planning the work for a specific release, you need to agree on what constitutes a "done" increment of work. This is known as your release criteria, and should be specific enough so that there is no ambiguity about what needs to be included in the release. The criteria should also be achievable, allowing you to realistically plan for and deliver a high-quality increment of work within the timeframe of the release.

Step 4: Plan the work for your first release

Now that you have reviewed your product strategy, created a roadmap, and defined your release criteria, you are ready to start planning the work for your first release. The goal at this stage is to identify the specific pieces of work that need to be completed in order to achieve the objectives of the release. This will involve breaking down the work into smaller tasks and estimating how much time each task will take to complete.

Step 5: Create your release schedule

Once you have planned the work for your first release, you need to create a release planning schedule that outlines when each task will be completed. The schedule should be realistic and achievable, taking into account the available resources and the timeframes defined in the roadmap. It is important to remember that the release schedule is not set in stone; it should be flexible enough to accommodate changes as the work progresses.

Step 6: Monitor and adjust your plan

As you start working on the tasks in your first release, you will inevitably encounter unforeseen challenges and obstacles. It is important to monitor the progress of the work and make adjustments to the plan as needed. This may involve adding or removing tasks, changing the order in which tasks are completed, or adjusting the schedule to account for delays. The goal is to keep the work on track while ensuring that it remains achievable.

Agile release planning is an essential part of any Agile project. By following these steps, you can ensure that your project gets off to a strong start and remains on track to achieve its objectives.

Release Plan Templates

Product Plan

Source: https://www.productplan.com/templates/template-agile-roadmap/

Smart Sheet

Source: https://www.smartsheet.com/agile-project-management-excel-templates

LucidChart

Source: https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/agile-release-planning

Powerslides

Source: https://powerslides.com/powerpoint-business/project-management-templates/release-plan/

Project-Management.info

Source: https://project-management.info/agile-release-planning/

Conclusion

When it comes to Agile release planning, the steps are pretty straightforward. However, it’s important to start with a clear product strategy to ensure that everyone is on the same page. From there, create a roadmap and define your release criteria. Then, start planning the work for your first release by breaking down tasks and estimating how long each one will take to complete. Finally, create a schedule and monitor progress as you go.

Aside from Gitlab, consider using GoRetro for your next Agile release planning project. GoRetro is an online tool that helps you retrospect on past projects and learn from your mistakes so you can improve your process for future releases. 

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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